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Meet the WritersImage of Vicki Pettersson
Vicki Pettersson
Las Vegas native Vicki Pettersson always loved to write, but a post-college stint in public relations convinced her that "working on assignment" was not the career for her; so she did what any self-respecting Vegas girl would do: she became a showgirl by night... and a closet novelist by day. A decade later she also became an instant bestseller with the back-to-back releases in her dark urban fantasy series, The Scent of Shadows and The Taste of Night. She'll appear in November's Holidays Are Hell anthology, and The Touch of Twilight: The Third Sign of the Zodiac will follow in June 2008.

Author biography courtesy of Eon.

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Good to Know
Some fun and fascinating excerpts from our interview with Pettersson:

"I used to be a Las Vegas showgirl. In fact, dancing in the Folies Bergere at night was what enabled me to write during the day. It gave me the time and space to learn and grow, and at the end of the day I could pack away the laptop and go hang with my friends in the lights and sequins and feathers. It was a great way to spend my 20s, and the perfect compliment to the sedentary writer's lifestyle. So that's my real advice to aspiring authors: expose yourself nightly to thousands of strangers! It worked for me!"

"I was born and raised in Las Vegas, which I've found is even more interesting to people than my having been a showgirl. (No, I did not live in a hotel growing up!) It was a drastically different scene back then, and rather boring because there wasn't a whole lot for kids to do. Before the Mirage was built in 1989 it was pretty much a small town with a big, bright bulge in the middle, like a snake that'd swallowed a light bulb. Like other locals, I can still reach down past the glitter and the fast pace, and trace the remnants of that small town like the lines on my palm. It's still there, if you know where to look."

"Being a mother has made me a better writer. My baby has made me faster and bolder and smarter, and taught me I can do things I might never have attempted before. An odd fact of motherhood is that you'll do things for your child that you'd never do -- or ask for -- for yourself. Isn't that strange? So I was determined from the get-go that I wasn't going to blame my child for my own professional failures. Whatever I do or don't accomplish lies squarely on my shoulders. So there are sacrifices I have to make right now -- getting up at 4:30 in the morning is one of them -- but that's nothing compared to the rewards, and I know this time is fleeting. So I'm careful not to squander it. Being a mother is a wonderful asset!"

"I've recently begun getting into Mid-Mod Century culture and design. I've suddenly become conscious of all the small affinities I have for the '50s and '60s: I love Hepburn-esque dresses, cocktail culture, and I've always romanticized the Rat Pack days (I used to say that I was a showgirl 20 years past my time). I'd really like to buy one of the older Mid-Mod homes, with their sharp angles and clean lines and cinderblock patterns and butterfly roofs, but the areas these homes are in (in Las Vegas) need to be revitalized a bit before I jump on board with that."

"I used to daydream that Elvis was really my father. (Yes, such are the dreams of a child raised in Vegas!) But he was performing in town around the time I was born and my mother was totally cute -- and I can do the lip thing, 'Thank you very much' -- so I thought it entirely feasible!"

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In the summer of 2007, Vicki Pettersson took some time to answer some of our questions about her favorite books, authors, and interests.

What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer?
It had to be Diana Gabaldon's Outlander. I was already writing historical fiction, but I'd never read anything with such density and depth that was still so accessible. I was sucked into her world, intrigued by her imagination, stunned by the prose, and the characters lived on in my mind long after I closed the book. Discovering that book also led me to the online forum where she has long been a section leader, and my interaction with the writers and the critique group there helped my writing immeasurably. Diana remains to this day an unwitting mentor of mine.

What are your ten favorite books, and what makes them special to you?

  • Outlander by Diana Gabaldon -- For the reasons mentioned above.

  • A Drink Before the War by Dennis Lehane -- It's the first in his Kenzie/Gennaro crime series, which I would argue is the best crime series out there. It's dark and gritty, yet hopeful at the same time. Each book in the series gets better and better. In fact, I think Prayers for Rain is pure perfection. I wouldn't change one word of it.

  • The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay -- This book is stunning, powerful, and timeless. It's both epic and personal, and the story has stayed with me for years.

  • White Oleander by Janet Fitch -- I love writers who can make me see an old idea in a new way. I read this book for the first time just for story; then I went back and reveled in the prose. She's a consummate wordsmith, and there are hidden gems on every page. She's now an auto-buy for me.

  • Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield -- It's a martial, graphic, brutal account of the Battle of Thermopylae, and though fiction, I can easily imagine it happening just like this. I geeked out so much over this book that I almost named my kid Sparta. {G

  • The Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling -- Need I really say any more? I only wish she'd been writing when I was a kid. This is exactly the reason I fell in love with books.

  • The Course of Honor by Lindsey Davis -- I'm the first to admit that I'm not a particularly romantic person, which is why romance is relegated to a subplot in my fiction, but when I do indulge, I like it big, epic, far-reaching, and timeless. This is one such story set in the turbulent Roman times.

  • The Light Bearer by Donna Gillespie -- This is a big, fat, epic get-lost-in-the-pages historical with a strong female protagonist and vivid, detailed prose. Another book I totally geeked out over and read again and again. The long-awaited sequel, Lady of the Light is just out, and it's my special treat for finishing up all my work. I'm always surprised that more people don't know about this amazing author.

  • Vamped by David Sosnowski -- This is a ribald, fresh, literary take on the vampire genre. I confess that I'm a bit bored with the vampire mythos as a whole, but this was a breath of fresh air.

  • Naked in Death by J. D. Robb -- Like many other readers, I love a good, long, continuing series, and I love this one because Robb (Nora Roberts) always delivers what I want as a reader. She is the consummate storyteller, and one of my writing heroes. I'm hooked on Eve and Roarke.

    What are some of your favorite films, and what makes them unforgettable to you?
    As in my reading, I'm really all over the place. French Kiss is my ultimate chick-flick movie. Every girl has to have one, right? My all-time favorite action movie is The Matrix; I remember walking out of the theater totally blown away by the freshness of the concept, and I'm certain it had a subliminal effect on my writing. Billy Elliot and Anne of Green Gables are my coming-of-age favorites. The Usual Suspects and The Sixth Sense had twists that totally took me by surprise; I love to be completely fooled. I also loved Serenity because it brought back the characters from one of my favorite-ever television series', Firefly, which was witty and intelligent and fun, and ended far too soon. Finally, Mystic River brought to life one of Lehane's books, and I think Sean Penn gave the performance of a lifetime in that. Utterly wrenching.

    What types of music do you like? Is there any particular kind you like to listen to when you're writing?
    I have to have total silence when I write (though I'm starting to get over that now that I have a toddler). That said, I played Evanescence's "Fallen" through much of The Scent of Shadows because I'd listened to it so many times I'd actually stopped hearing it. The songs on that album remind me of Joanna and Olivia (the sisters in my story) to this day.

    The Taste of Night had just one song mentally ascribed to it and that was Green Day's "Boulevard of Broken Dreams." It was perfect for that story.

    When I'm working out or driving I'll listen to hard rock -- Nine Inch Nails and Nickleback are my favorites -- though, again, I can't listen to this while working. Alone I'll listen to Ani DiFranco, Natalie Merchant, Aimee Mann, Norah Jones, Joss Stone, and Feist. I'm also into the retro cocktail culture, so I love to put on Michael Bublé and pretend I'm at the old Sands Hotel in Vegas having a steak dinner with Sinatra. Finally, my husband prefers classical music, so when we're together we'll compromise with Amici, Josh Groban, and Bocelli.

    Only recently have I discovered the song that fits my series as a whole, and I wish I'd known about it when I had my book signings this spring because readers were asking at the time what song perfectly epitomized my work. That song is "Butterflies and Hurricanes" by Muse, and it makes me visualize Jo's story as a miniseries. I can't listen to it enough.

    If you had a book club, what would it be reading?
    I'd definitely want to introduce them to Sosnowski's Vamped because I think a lot of people who enjoy urban fantasy would love it. A lot of the fiction I'm seeing within the genre is very insular right now, and it's wonderful to see what can be done if an author really stretches. For that reason we'd also read Charles De Lint, a true forerunner in urban fantasy, and a man who writes some of the most lyrical, touching material in the genre.

    What are your favorite kinds of books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
    I love to give and receive gift cards. There's nothing better than wandering and roaming and daydreaming my way through the aisles of a bookstore, and a gift card gives me carte blanche to indulge in impulse buys. It's like going on a treasure hunt. I know it sounds odd, but I'll buy things with gift cards that I normally wouldn't purchase with cash, and I never feel guilty for doing so (which is rare for me -- I'm a terrible consumer and I always suffer from buyer's remorse). I also give subscriptions for birthdays and holidays because that person will be reminded of me each month when that periodical shows up in the mailbox.

    Do you have any special writing rituals? For example, what do you have on your desk when you're writing?
    Time is at a premium now that I'm a mother, so these days my ritual consists of getting up at 4:30 in the morning. It's my only guaranteed uninterrupted writing time prior to the household waking up (I love it because New York isn't even awake yet!). I'll hit the coffee pot and then dive into the work. If my husband doesn't have to rush straight into work, he'll take care of the morning parenting duties, and I'll continue to write. I'll "break for baby" then dive back into the work at nap time. It's rare that I work again at night, though I do have that option. Most often, however, I'll hang with the family, watch a movie, or read a book when the baby goes to bed...something to fill the well so I'm fresh for the next day's work.

    What are you working on now?
    It is called The Touch of Twilight, and it's the third book in my Signs of the Zodiac series. It continues with Joanna Archer, who has accepted her role as the Archer, part of the supernatural Zodiac force dedicated to protecting the inhabitants of Las Vegas in the war between Light and Shadow.

    In The Touch of Twilight, I introduce a new player into the battle, one whom both sides fear. As Joanna spars with the deadly and enigmatic doppelganger, she fears that that the third sign of the Zodiac is really the awakening of her Shadow side. The Light is fading, and to save her friends Joanna must not only cut all ties to her past, but actually embrace the darkness and abandon this world.

    Many writers are hardly "overnight success" stories. How long did it take for you to get where you are today? Any rejection-slip horror stories or inspirational anecdotes?
    I once read that it takes the average writer a decade before realizing their dream of being published. Scoffing at that in the way that only a 20-something could, I decided it'd take me half that time, at most. From that moment on we can go ahead and fast-forward that decade, because it took me exactly ten years to accomplish that goal. There are completed but unsold manuscripts under my bed. There are unfinished stories, false starts, and multiple drafts of circuitous and messy prose.

    But by far the hardest thing I had to do in that ten-year period was allow my first book to die. It was a historical, it was my first love, it was the book that I dreamed of seeing on shelves, and the one that taught me how to write. I was so stubborn about not letting it go that I almost allowed it to kill my love of writing. By the time I realized what was happening, I'd been working on it for so long that there was an immense amount of weight to each word I put on the page. I'm not sure any art can survive that sort of pressure. I know my own creativity couldn't.

    So, sobbing, I put it away, and with it went my excuses and my patience for some flighty, nonexistent muse. Yet I kept the lessons I learned about writing, coupled them with the determination to never again start a story I wouldn't finish, and the promise to myself that I'd finish it before it died on the vine. Failing at that story in particular was probably the best thing that ever happened to me.

    My new goal, then, was to write a book filled with all the things I loved: a mystery's noir, a strong romantic subplot, an accessible first-person voice, and the fantasy I'd loved before college lit had knocked it all out of my head and life. It was the most fun I'd ever had writing, and The Scent of Shadows came out of it. Praise be, because I got knocked up at the exact same time, and my showgirl career was officially over.

    If you could choose one new writer to be "discovered," who would it be?
    I was fortunate to read an Advance Reader's Copy of Melissa Marr's Wicked Lovely, an upper young adult urban fantasy that blew me away. It's a modern, edgy faerie tale and the first in a series. I'd recommend it to readers of all ages.

    What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered?
    What I'd like pre-published authors to know is this: It doesn't get any harder than this. The work you're doing right now is laying the foundation for your preparedness when New York does come a-calling. It's the experience you'll have behind you that'll enable you to say ‘Yes' to opportunities that come your way. So keep doing your level best everyday because while you're pushing and forcing the words onto the page, the work is actually pushing and forcing you into a different place as a writer. Doing it changes you. So work on your craft, continue learning, apply yourself and move forward daily, and read good books. In time, your skills will improve, your voice will gel, your discipline will strengthen, and your writing will be as much a part of your lifestyle as brushing your teeth.

    Also, don't have the blinders so firmly fixed in place that you're unwilling to change directions or let go of a story that's no longer indicative of who you are as a person, or that may be keep you from growing as a writer. You only become a better writer by writing. Not rewriting. Not talking about writing. Not thinking about it. So make sure you're in love with the work and not just the thought of the work. And then do it.

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  • About the Writer
    *Vicki Pettersson Home
    * Biography
    * Good to Know
    * Interview
    *Scent of Shadows: The First Sign of the Zodiac, 2007
    *The Taste of Night: The Second Sign of the Zodiac, 2007
    *Holidays Are Hell, 2007